WASHINGTON – First Lady Laura Bush (search) on Thursday helped launch a $10 million fundraising effort to draw more children to the 388 national parks.
From the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, Bush lauded the decades-old Junior Ranger (search) program that teaches young Americans about the parks.
"As Junior Rangers discover our parks, they learn lessons about history, culture and science," she told an audience that included 27 children from nearby Virginia schools.
Supporters say the National Park Service program, which certifies children as Junior Rangers if they complete learning activities, needs major revamping to spread its reach.
"It could be just so much better. There are so many kids that don't know about it," said Jay Vestal, director of the fundraising campaign and vice president of the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for the parks.
Already $1.5 million has been raised from corporations and individuals. The money will help expand the program, now serving 330,000 children annually in 286 parks, to 1 million children in every national park.
Bush, the honorary chairwoman, said encouraging children to enjoy national parks -- from California's redwood forests to Independence Hall (search) in Philadelphia -- helps preserve them for future generations.
"The national parks mean so much to me. I live in a national park -- the White House," she said.